One of the oldest mysteries in Los Angeles County, the Black Dahlia murder is a brutal and haunting case. An aspiring actress named Elizabeth Short was murdered and her body was mutilated way back in 1947, and she has still not received justice.
Elizabeth Short, 22, was hacked to pieces and her body was arranged in a pose in an empty lot in Leimert Park, L.A. The gruesome murder of the woman has remained a mystery ever since, and now after 70 years of failed investigations, there is almost no chance of attaining justice. Who killed the Black Dahlia, you ask? Read on for the details about the chilling murder.
A Childhood Not So Rosy
Elizabeth Short was born on June 29, 1924, to Phoebe and Cleo Short. Her father made miniature golf courses, but the 1929 stock market crash doomed the Short family, leaving them broke.
When Short was six, her father’s car was found abandoned on the Charlestown Bridge, and he was nowhere to be found. Assuming that he had killed himself by jumping in the river, Phoebe took her five children to a small apartment in Medford, Massachusetts and worked as a bookkeeper to support them.
Short grew up in a struggling family, and by the time she was 15, she had dropped out of high school. In a shocking twist, they received a letter from their thought-to-be-deceased father apologizing for his disappearance and informing them that he had started a new life in California. Short, 18, relocated to California to live with her father, but arguments between the two made her move out of his home in 1943.
The same year, she joined Camp Cooke, where she worked at the base exchange.
She lived with her friends, and briefly with an Air Force sergeant who allegedly abused her. In September 1943, she was arrested by the police for underage drinking.
How Did Short Die? Why Would Someone Kill Her?
On January 9, 1947, Elizabeth Short was last seen alive after she was dropped off at the Baltimore Hotel by a man, Robert Manley, who had spent time with her earlier in San Diego. Witnesses who were interrogated later said that they saw Short at the Crown Grill Cocktail Lounge.
On January 15, she was found in a vacant lot. Her body had been cut in two and she was naked. A woman out with her daughter for a walk was the first one to see the body. At first she thought it was a store mannequin, but she soon realized it was a corpse. She rushed to inform the police.
The Black Dahlia’s crime scene looked like it was carefully choreographed. The body was cut in half at the waist, and the lower half was placed a foot away from the upper half, with the legs spread out. The spilled intestines were neatly tucked under the lower half of the body and the blood had been drained from the corpse, making the skin very pale. Short’s hands were posed above her head and her face had been cut from the corners of the mouth to the ears, creating what’s called a Glasgow Smile.
The killer was careful not to leave any fingerprints and had washed the body with gasoline. In the autopsy the next day, the doctors determined the cause of death was blood loss and shock from blows to the head. There was no blood on the ground where her body was found, which meant that she was killed someplace else and left in the lot later. The time of death was placed somewhere between late January 14 and early January 15.
Short was identified when her fingerprints were sent to Washington D.C. and they matched those taken after her arrest in 1943.
A Never-Before-Seen Investigation
A person claiming to be Short’s killer phoned the editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, James Richardson, and congratulated him on the paper’s coverage of the murder. He even told Richardson to expect souvenirs of Short in the mail. Following the phone call, a mail worker found a manila envelope containing Short’s birth certificate, business cards, and photographs, along with an address book with the name Mark Hansen.
The envelope had been cleaned with gasoline, just like Short’s body. During their initial investigation, the police received a whopping 60 confessions, mostly from men. Around 25 of those confessions were considered viable.
In total, over 500 people have confessed to the crime, many of whom were not even alive at the time of Short’s death.
The police thought of Mark Hansen, an acquaintance of Short’s, as a suspect, but he was cleared. In later news, a witness who lived near the crime scene said they had seen a man in a sedan parked by the empty lot, and he fled when he saw the resident approaching to drop off lawn clippings. But after following the man and investigating him, police dismissed him as a suspect as well. People like crime author like Steve Hodel, and LAPD Captain Jack Donahoe believe that the Chicago Lipstick Murder is somehow connected to the Elizabeth Short murder.
A Theory That Only Guesses at the Killer
Steve Hodel, who is the son of George Hill Hodel, implicated his father as the killer of Elizabeth Short. George allegedly had a secret room in his home where children were not allowed to go, and he had surgical training. Steve was sure that his father was somehow involved in the murder and wanted to gather evidence.
So when Steve began going through his father’s possessions, he found a picture of a woman who looked hauntingly similar to Short. Though it was never proven that this was in fact was Short’s picture, it made for pretty convincing evidence at the time.
The police planted listening devices in George’s home and they heard him tell an unidentified visitor: “ Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary because she’s dead.” But there was no strong evidence that could confirm that he had murdered Short.
In 1991, Janice Knowlton claimed that she saw her father beat Short to death in a detached garage when she was 10 years old. She later wrote a book called Daddy Was the Black Dahlia Killer.
She even claimed that her father had molested her as a child in her writings, but her stepsister condemned Knowlton’s book.
Some sources say the Black Dahlia name given to Short was a play on the movie The Blue Dahlia. Now Elizabeth Short rests at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, where her mother moved to be near her child’s grave. Short’s slaying has been called one of the most brutal murders in the history of American crime, and it has inspired many movies and books.